The UK’s biggest bar show, Imbibe Live closed out another great year with a wider selection of boutique brands and products than previously experienced. Bartenders, brand reps and industry gurus were all there in a mélange of waistcoats and unkept facial hair.

With a vast array of masterclasses and presentations covering everything from Cognac blending to cocktail maturation, tips on making your own vermouth and the annual bartenders vs sommeliers final (one of the worst executed best ideas ever), it was definitely two days worthy of an early evening hangover.

With so many great brands and products to discover and sample, choosing the best of the show is hardly an easy or definitive task. But with ever an eye out for the new and exclusive, the following is my top five discoveries of Imbibe 2014.

The Pickle House

Pickle House

So niche and ballsy it was hard not to be impressed. The Pickle House is a company dedicated to one thing, producing bottles of spiced pickle (gherkin juice) for use in shots and cocktails.

Selling for £7.50 per 500ml bottle, the product is basically driven by the popular American shooter, the Pickleback (a shot of whiskey chased with a shot of pickle juice). While the Pickleback is yet to take hold in across the UK, according to an Evening Standard article published early this year, it is already the shot of choice across some of London’s most fashionable drinking districts such as Chelsea, Soho and Shoreditch.

For mixologists, the use of vinegar in cocktails is not completely alien with fruit shrub’s seeing a popular resurgence on many menus. Pickle juice is an undeniably tasty addition to a Bloody Mary or Red Snapper while also stock full of electrolytes to help with the hangover.

But one can’t help wonder with bartenders already making their own bitters, syrups and shrubs etc, how hard is it to enrich tinned gherkin juice? For The Picklehouse, the future remains to be seen but I for one hope to see them on more pub shelves.

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Tamdhu 10yo Scotch

In a market exhausted with more and more limited release Single Malt whisky’s, it’s refreshing to find a new brand which stands out from the pack.

Relaunched in 2013, Tamdhu has a distillery pedigree reaching back to 1897. A lightly peated, Speyside Single Malt, which has spent a full decade maturing in predominantly first fill, Oloroso sherry butts. The result is a mellow 40% ABV Scotch with notes of cinnamon and almond on the nose while the rich sherry influences flavours of sweet toffee and caramel balanced against ripe fruit with a subtle smokey finish. Basically, it’s lush.

Promoting values of industry and endeavor alongside what they call the ‘Can-Dhu-Spirit’, Tamdhu is a 10-year-old Scotch of remarkable character and thanks to a fantastic bottle inspired by the art deco soda siphons of old, it’ll more than stand out amongst its competitors.

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Aroma Academy

Unfortunately not a product designed for imbibing but rather inhaling. With our smell or olfactory senses capable of hundreds of individual distinguishing notes compared only five (arguably) in the mouth, the Aroma Academy is one of the first dedicated companies to drive the importance of smell in everything we taste.

While also offering courses in training your brain to interpret the many senses detected through smell, the Aroma Academy specialise in creating bespoke aroma kits for lovers of whisky, wine and gin.

Not unlike the Le Nez kits (‘the nose’ in French) used by sommeliers to learn the key aromas in wine, these kits can be tailored to a specific style of spirit or even brand, opening up your brain’s ability to interpret the many complex flavours delivered by a specific beverage.

Basic kit’s can be purchased through their online store for between £50 – £130 each depending on their number of aromas (12 or 24). Each kit also arrives with a 60 page guide booklet to flavors and nosing, blank aroma strips and record nosing sheets.

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Butlers Gin

It stands to reason that with so many gin’s out there, it takes a special brand to truly stand out. Butler’s gin is such an example.

Unlike most gins which distill off their botanical selection in one batch, Butler’s infuses the majority of it’s ingredients in 20 litre batches after distilling its base juniper spirit. Comprising of organic lemongrass, cardamom, coriander, star anise, cinnamon, cloves, fennel, lemon and lime, the final spirit has a slight glow from the contact with the raw botanicals and a rich dry finish not lacking in length.

With a greater focus on infusion rather than distillation the aromatics are a bit light but you can’t deny the bold and well-balanced notes of cardamom and lemongrass. Launched in February 2013 and produced entirely by hand in London’s Hackney Wick, founder Ross Butler has already received wide industry acclaim including a silver medal at the International Spirits Challenge earlier this year.

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Berry’s Own Selection Panama 10yo Rum

Quite possibly the most under sold drinks company in the world, Berry Bros. & Rudd (BBR) is one of the worlds oldest wine and spirits merchants having traded out of the same central London store since 1698 (the year the steam engine was first patented).

With the Caribbean holding dominion over the majority of exported rums, BBR offer a unique collection of single barrel early landings (shipped to the UK for final maturation) from lesser known rum producing nations such as Guyana, Grenada, Fiji and Panama.

First sip of the 46% ABV rum, hits you with rich chocolate, vanilla notes before softening into a nutmeg spice which transforms again by the third sip into tropical banana and mango fruits. Simply put, the taste was long, complex and rich. An experience uncommon with the Spanish rum stereotype – if such a thing even exists.

It’s always an honour to sample limited editions releases but even more of a pleasure when they exceed your already high expectations. As such, the Berry’s Own Selection Panama 10yo rum is easily my Imbibe 2014 winner and a must buy for any rum aficionados.

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